When I finally hit “publish” on my first epic DMV post, specifically giving Australians tips on what they could expect when trying to get a California license, it went off.

Expats actually commented on the blog *shock*. So you know it’s one of those annoying things that everyone has a story about. As you can tell by the comments on this post on the Australians in San Francisco Facebook page.

With that in mind, I’m moving onto documenting part deux of the driving test hoops you have to jump through to legally be able to drive in this state. You’d think it’d get easier. It doesn’t.

Also, a massive thanks to everyone from the Australians in San Francisco fb page who jumped in with important tips and information. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to take the test yesterday. Thanks guys!


So you’ve passed the computerised knowledge test and are ready to take the Behind-The-Wheel Driving Test. If you thought you could just make the appointment at the DMV while you’re still there, you’re wrong. Oh so woefully mistaken.

You get a little business card sending you in the direction of the DMV website to book in your appointment. It’s got a QR code and everything. You wish it was that easy though!


I logged on and went through the process. You’ll need your license number to complete it, which you can find on the learner’s permit you were given when you passed the knowledge test. It’s usually made up of a letter and seven numbers.

I  tried making an appointment five times that afternoon and the next morning. Each time I was met with a message pointing to my mystery ineligibility. So instead I rang the DMV phone line.

On The Phone

You have two options on the phone. Immediately press the “0” key and wait to talk to a real person. Or you can go through the automated process of booking an appointment.
I tried the second way but my accent was not appreciated by the automated computer man – he couldn’t understand me and I got more and more frustrated. Then he only gives you one time option to take the test, which I found difficult. You can ask to change the date and time but it doesn’t tell you what’s available on that day.

I hung up and went for the real person way of doing things and I was all booked in a matter of minutes. This is a great way of doing it because you can ask exactly what you need to bring with you and any other things you’re worried about. They’re not always pleasant about answering questions though.


Driving testers (for want of a better term) mark you on a set of criteria. It’s all explained in this helpful 90’s-esque video (even though it was posted eight years ago).

In short, get into the habit of stopping before the yield line at intersections and stop signs, don’t speed and check your blind spots religiously.

Before the test, the examiner will go through a pre-drive checklist with you to make sure your car is up to standard and you know where everything is. Take note: I momentarily hesitated on the windshield wiper/turn signal question because I sometimes get them confused since they’re backwards here.

Pre-Drive Checklist

  • Driver Window
  • Windshield (windscreen)
  • Rear view mirrors
  • Turn signals
  • Brake lights
  • Tires (tyres)
  • Foot brake
  • Horn
  • Emergency/parking brake
  • Arm signals (left, right and stop)
  • Windshield (windscreen) wipers
  • Defroster (Demisters)
  • Emergency Flasher (Hazard lights)
  • Headlights
  • Passenger door
  • Glove box
  • Seat belts


There are a list of requirements for the vehicle that you choose to do the test in, which you can find at length here… or I’ll give the cliff notes here:
    • two license plates. The rear plate must show current registration.
    • both front and back turn signal lights and working brake lights.
    • a working horn designed for the vehicle.
    • tires with no bald spots.
    • adequate brake pressure (you will be asked to step on the brake pedal to see if it works properly).
    • a driver’s side window that rolls down.
    • a windshield that allows a full unobstructed field of vision.
    • two rear view mirrors (one must be on the outside, to the driver’s left).
    • driver and front passenger doors that open from both the inside and outside.
    • a secured glove compartment door so it doesn’t open during the test.
    • a passenger seat permanently attached to the vehicle.
    • working safety belts, if the vehicle was manufactured with safety belts.
  • working emergency/parking brake.


Rental Cars

If you’re planning to use a rental car to take your test in you’ll need a few extra things from the rental car company (thanks for the heads up Annika).
You’ll need to take out insurance and bring your rental contract, with your name listed on it as being insured. You will also have to request a signed letter from the rental agency, stipulating that they know you’re using the car to take a driving test and they approve.

What You Need

You’re going to need to bring a few things (and people) with you on the day or you won’t be able to take the test.

  1. Your Learner’s Permit
  2. The vehicle’s registration
  3. Proof that the vehicle is insured
  4. A person over the age of 18 who holds a California Driver’s license (Thanks to Phill, Monika, Scott and many others for pointing this out to me)
@krasf If you are an adult, you need an adult, 18 or older, w/ valid CA DL. If you are a minor, you need driver 25 or older with a CA DL.

— CA DMV (@CA_DMV) November 2, 2016

 By law this fully licensed person must sit with you in the car while you wait to take your test.

Guide to the best places to live in San Francisco


Don’t wait in the usual “appointment” or “non-appointment” line. There should be a sign above the “Behind-The-Wheel” driver’s test window. Line up there.

Hand in your permit, registration and insurance at the desk and, once again, get fingerprinted. You’ll get a yellow laminated card clipped to your paperwork and then be directed to drive your car (with your licensed passenger) into the testing line.

Driver's license | License | Driving in America | Driving in the US | Getting a California Driver’s License | Drive | Aussie | Expat | Aussie Expat in US | expat life
Pin me for later!

Be warned: My appointment was for 12pm but the examiner didn’t get to me until 1pm. So you could be sitting in that line for a very long time. Make sure the person you roped into doing you this favour knows that. Shrug and say “it’s the DMV, what’d you expect?”, they will understand.


The examiner will instruct you to “say good bye to your companion” and then ask for your paperwork. S/he will check that everything’s in order before showing you the marking sheet, asking you to read and sign it.
It says:
“To pass, you must have no more than three errors marked for Items 9-14 under PRE-DRIVE CHECKLIST, no marks in the CRITICAL DRIVING ERROR section, and no more than 15 errors marked for the Scoring Maneuvers”
Then you will go through the pre-drive checklist, before the examiner gets into the car and instructs you to drive away. We did a couple of happy laps, changed lanes a lot but thankfully I didn’t have to reverse park. I did have to pull up to a curb and reverse along it for a ways without hitting the curb.
I’m going to share my score sheet now. It’s not perfect but I passed. I’m a little unhappy with my driving so… yeah, try not to laugh too much


Once you pass you return to the DMV office and line up again to wait in line to be issued a fancy piece of paper that is your interim license. Your actual card copy should be mailed to you within 30 days.

However, it seems this isn’t always the case. Especially for those on E3-D Visa’s. Some have reported receiving their license within days or weeks, but there are others who went almost a full three months before getting it.

Just like expat Megan, who is still waiting for her shiny lisence to arrive in the mail:

“My husband and I did the driving test (and passed) on the same day at the start of September. He’s on an E-3, I’m on an E-3D. He got his license within 2 weeks, I’m still waiting on mine (I have a printed piece of paper that says temporary license).”

“The DMV website indicates that a temporary license is issued because the application is incomplete and pending additional information. They didn’t tell me that when they gave it to me, so I’ve no idea what is pending. I’ve tried to call them several times with no luck so I’m going to have to bite the bullet and go in soon before it expires!”

Make sure you chase it up with the DMV before your temporary license expires – because I can imagine that they might make you take the test again.


So it didn’t go so well. Sorry mate.  But, let’s be honest, this test is a bit of a pain in the rear. Nevermind – you can take the test three times before it all goes pear-shaped,
If you fail you’ll have to book in another test, and if you’re younger than 18, you’ll need to wait two weeks before you can take another test.

There’s also a $7 re-test fee to pay. If you fail three times you get to go through the whole knowledge test/driving test rigmarole from the very beginning. Fingers crossed for you.

**Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links you don’t pay a cent more, but I receive a small commission, that is put towards the running of this blog.